Trafficked: Sex slaves seduced and sold


Every year thousands of women are forced into prostitution and traded from Mexico to the United States. The BBC investigates the sex trafficking business, which makes some men very wealthy at the expense of vulnerable young women.

Warning: Viewers may find some of the video content disturbing.

  • Rural traffickers' town
  • Sold for sex
  • Brothels on wheels
  • 'John School' for clients
  • Traffickers' town

    Tenancingo is a Mexican town built on sex trafficking - with little alternative employment, it's become the only way to make money. Young women from across Mexico are duped into becoming sex slaves by wealthy men living in grand homes, offering them work or even marriage. Needing money for their families, the women discover too late they're being sold into prostitution, often in the US. One Mexican charity estimates there are 1,000 traffickers in Tenancingo, out of a total population of 10,000.

    Global trafficking figures
    • $32bn Annual human trafficking industry (almost £20bn)
    • 9.8m Total involved in unpaid work or prostitution
    • 800,000 People trafficked across borders every year
    • 79% Of people trafficked are women/girls
    Source: Congressional Research Service/UN global report on trafficking/ILO
  • Sold for sex

    "Maria" was 17-years-old when she was lured to Mexico with promises of a new life. Instead she was forced into prostitution and sold from one bar to another. For those women trafficked in Mexico, the capital, Mexico City, is a central hub. From there, many are smuggled to the US, or exploited in border towns and tourist resorts. The Mexican Congress has plans to crack down on trafficking; those accused will be jailed during trial and victims guaranteed anonymity. Corruption among Mexican officials at state level has hampered prosecutions in the past.

    Trafficking figures in Mexico
    • 100,000 Latin Americans trafficked across borders per year
    • 47 New prosecutions in Mexico City in 2010
    • 4 Trafficking offenders convicted
    • 4-17 years Length of sentences
    Source: Congressional Research Service/Mexico Attorney General's Office
  • 'Brothels on wheels'

    Many trafficking victims are taken to New York, where they often work gruelling shifts of 10 hours or more. Some women live and work in a brothel, only leaving the building when their pimp moves them to a new location. Other women are advertised on "chica cards", distributed in the street. Customers call the number on the card and women are delivered by car to a customer's house or hotel room. The women live in fear, frequently assaulted by their pimps and customers.

    Trafficking figures in New York
    • 14-19 Average age of victims
    • 25-30 Average number of male clients per shift
    • $30 Average amount paid for 15 minutes
    • $5,250 Average a brothel makes a week per woman
    Source: National Human Trafficking Resource Center
  • 'John School'

    The US has a federal anti-trafficking law and New York state has its own tough penalties. Though strong laws are in place, the problem is enforcing them. Women who co-operate in trafficking investigations can receive special visas allowing them to work legally. But convicting pimps is still difficult as many of their victims are too terrified to give evidence against them.

    Reducing the demand for prostitution is seen as one key to ending sex trafficking. In Brooklyn, New York, the district attorney's office runs a controversial programme to treat men convicted of using prostitutes. Called "John School" the men are taught that the women they are soliciting may be the victims of a sex trafficking operation.

    Trafficking figures in the US
    • 103 Human trafficking cases prosecuted in 2009/10
    • 181 Individuals charged
    • 141 Convictions
    • 11.8 years Average prison sentence
    Source: Trafficking in persons report 2011, US Dept of State

Produced by Laura Trevelyan, David Botti, Ignacio de los Reyes, Chuck Tayman, Nada Tawfik, Mark Bryson, Claire Shannon, Luke Ward.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Think of it this way, the official sexual assault rate in the State of Alaska, USA is 1 out of every 3 females. Don't know what those numbers are for males there but they are still high. The Diocese of Fairbanks was one of the first to have to file bankruptcy for priests sex crimes. Now, if those are the documented victims, want to guess at the real rates? Very few even are trying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Seriously, no one in the UK knows why this is happening? Prostitution in the USA is believed to be like sewer systems, necessary, but kept out of site. The Police more than anyone work to keep it out of site and never really erradicated. US solutions are geared at re-educating "stupid" women because even the Feminists here believe many women "want it." We haven't even begun to fight rightly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    #3, #4:

    The issue with sex trafficking has very little to do with prostitution being legal or illegal. Sex trafficking is a human trafficking issue (slavery), so by that route, you could say that to end human trafficking we may as well make slavery legal again. Obviously, none of us want that for reasons I hope I don't have to explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.


  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    We first had an act to forbid any Briton becoming a slave in 1100AD

    Our citizens participated in the slave trade until eventually pass laws that include anyone making profit indirectly or directly from slavery would be jailed

    The statistics and the convictions and reports don't match-up I worry that the statistics are right in which case UK legal system is failing in this most heinous area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I agree with #3. While as a woman I loathe the so called 'Gentleman's clubs' and table dancing venues in our towns and cities what I do approve of is the fact that these places have to get licences and permits and the women who are employed theer have workpermit and criminal record checks. Prostitution will never go away, so why dont we legalise it and therefor make it easier to manage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    How much of this problem would go away if prostitution were legalised?
    Denmark saw a huge drop in violent crimes against women when it decriminalised prostitution.
    As long as there is demand, there will be providers.
    These 'crackdowns', whether well intentioned, or politically motivated, will prove to be just as "successful" as the US' "War on Drugs". Money talks, especially to US politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I imagine some men (maybe most men) will not give a hoot about where the girl comes from, but some few will and every one who changes his outlook makes the situation better. Ultimate solution: legalize prostitution, licence workers, check for Immigration status, enable medical care, & right to pay taxes & receive benefits. Men using unlicensed women will know they are breaking the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I see the women in the photos now have their identities masked.Thank you for doing that.


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